Several sent to me invitations to a fund-raiser for Associate Justice Courtney Goodson, running for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court against Judge Dan Kemp.
It is a sad fact of judicial elections that lawyers provide the bulk of the financing — along with corporate interests such as the chamber of commerce, hoping to elect judges who’ll protect them from lawsuits.
This particular fund-raiser is of interest because it indicates an old friend and benefactor of Goodson, W.H. Taylor, wasn’t discouraged by past publicity from chipping in more clout and dollars to his friend.
Taylor, who’s done work for the family that controls the Tyson poultry fortune, arranged a $50,000 Italy yacht trip on a Tyson yacht for Goodson and her current husband, John Goodson, a wealthy lawyer and lobbyist and UA trustee. Goodson recuses from Tyson cases and also from Taylor cases. Judges don’t recuse from all cases involving lawyers who’ve given them money. In theory, judges don’t know who contributes to their campaigns, nominally handled by a separate committee. In practice, everybody presumes they do. The candidates sometimes attend fund-raisers thrown for them, which is but one indication of the porousness of this supposed wall between candidates and money.
An ethics complaint was filed over the yacht trip and other matters. The Judicial Discipline Commission said it found no violation because Taylor was a business associate of John Goodson and he’d asked John Goodson on the trip in the yacht and Courtney Goodson came as guest. It also noted the gift was disclosed.
Little Rock trial lawyer Steve Engstrom threw a fund-raiser for Goodson in Little Rock recently. Sam Hilburn, the North Little Rock lawyer, joined with former Republican gubernatorial candidate Sheffield Nelson for an event for Goodson in North Little Rock. Lots of photos from the events on Goodson’s Facebook page.
If Kemp is to compete, he’ll have to do the same. (Check me lawyers to see if I’m wrong, but I think Little Rock lawyer Clark Mason, a candidate for another Supreme Court seat against Shawn Womack, is photographed in the crowd at the Engstrom event, co-hosted by Matt Keil, John Goodson’s law partner.) Hilburn, Nelson, members of Asa Hutchinson’s family and Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin are just a few of the Republicans popping up as Goodson, once identified, at least in her earlier marriage, as being from the Democratic end of the spectrum, realigns with current Arkansas politics.